Oh dear! Can my gut really think?
Standing beside my Buick, I saw him coming towards me. That very instance my gut told me, “Things are going to work between us.”
Not my brain, not my heart, yes, my gut! My gut told me that he is the one I have been waiting for years. “Your gut can think?” you would ask. Well, I don’t know if it can think or not, but the overall ‘happy’ or ‘unhealthy’ state of my body, including my gut, does contribute in my decision making abilities. Having said that, one thing that I can say for sure is, our brain and intestine do communicate and influence each other through the intricate networks formed by our autonomic and enteric nervous systems, endocrine system and our immune system. The major players of this communication between our brain and intestine are the tiny microorganisms that inhabit our guts.
The adult human gut is populated by trillions and trillions of microorganisms. Though before birth the human gut is sterile and devoid of any microorganisms, they are vertically transferred to us from our mothers during birth. This gut microbiota is then constantly refined over the course of our lives. Factors that design the microbial landscape of our intestine include the mode of birth (C-section or natural), genetics, environment, bacterial infections, antibiotic usage, our eating habits etc. Our gut’s microbial architecture usually has a balanced composition that protects us from external pathogens and promotes metabolic health. It is the disruption of this balance that makes us vulnerable to diseases and modulates our brain functioning and even behavior.
The concept of ‘state of gut’ like the ‘state of mind’ started to emerge a few years back when scientists observed remarkable changes in the behavior of mice after bacterial infections as well as anti- or pro-biotic administration.
In one study with the germ-free mice that had been never exposed to bacteria, scientists found widespread changes in the chemicals secreted in the brain as well as their behavior during stress. Such mice demonstrated deficits in their ability to socialize with other mice.
In another classic study, scientists reared mice from two different strains. Each mouse strain had its own characteristic behavior. Then, the scientists exposed mice of one strain with the microbiota from the other strain. Eventually, the recipient mice started to behave like the donor mice.
Also, the administration of various friendly bacterial strains to rodents have been shown to have beneficial effects on regulation of anxiety and depression.
To date, it is not clear that how much of these rodent studies translate to human behaviors. However, human clinical studies have started to emerge now and several studies have shown a correlation between mood disorders and gastrointestinal disorders. A lot of research these days is undergoing on evaluating the role of our gut microbiota on conditions like pain, autism, obesity and multiple sclerosis. We will have more light on that in coming years.
Are we changing this microbiota through our eating habits?
Yes, we are. Scientists have found that if they change the diet pattern in mice for subsequent generations, the mice that are born in the fourth generation have remarkably less diverse gut microbiota as compared to the original generation. So think, how much we have modified our diets as compared to our grandparents or our ancestors? Are we making the good essential microbes in our guts extinct?
The bigger question is does this has any influence on our behavior and our personalities? I don’t have answer to this question yet. But, I have always noticed one thing: Couples. Have you ever noticed that couples that stay together for longer durations have similarities in their personalities, ideologies, dressing sense and eating habits? Of course they love each other, they honor each other’s ideologies, and they accept each other’s style. But, does this has anything to do with the fact that they eat together and develop the similar microbiota in their guts? That is something to ponder about.
Also, back to square one, I still don’t know if our gut’s microbial architecture has anything to do with our decision making abilities or not. But, I just want you to know that, I followed my gut feeling that day and yes, we did tie a knot last year.
Though there are still more questions than answers, the bottom line is, we should be careful and mindful of what we are eating. So next time, before putting that random snack in your mouth, just keep in mind the old saying that “We are what we eat.”